As ballots come fluttering into citizens’ mailboxes, Proposition 51 will be described as a measure which “authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds for new construction and modernization of K-12 public school facilities; charter schools and vocational education facilities; and California Community Colleges facilities.” While most voters would want an increase in funds for California public schools and community colleges, the Foghorn believes that an informed voter would realize that almost every measure on the ballot this November requires a bit of research before making a decision, and we do not recommend Proposition 51 for this very reason.
Upon visiting the Vote Yes on Proposition 51 website, one will find the measure being framed as a way to tackle the “multi-billion dollar backlog of school construction projects.” Overcrowding in schools will be addressed, and health and safety standards will be raised in school buildings. Proposition 51 sounds like a no-brainer. With every measure, however, it is crucial to ask the age old Latin question: cui bono? Or rather, for whose benefit?
Students from K-12 and community college will undoubtedly benefit, but what about the corporations profiting from the construction of the schools? It is troubling that the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) is a main proponent, a group “representing thousands of member companies including homebuilders, trade contractors, architects, engineers, designers, suppliers and industry professionals in the homebuilding, multi-family and mixed-use development markets.”
This state trade association funded by construction companies has an obvious financial incentive to have Proposition 51 passed, creating a legitimate conflict of interest. Even Governor Jerry Brown is an opponent on the proposition, claiming it will add $500 million in debt every year to the budget, while not giving funds to the schools that need it most.
In fact, Proposition 51 does not explicitly state which schools will be receiving repairs, have mass layoffs and other issues. Unless there is a way for the proposition to affect the schools that are most financially-stricken, it is unlikely that those schools will get the help they need. By potentially funding the wrong schools, there is a chance Proposition 51 would create even more disparity within the California school system.
Governor Jerry Brown’s ambivalence to support Proposition 51 should not be perceived as a vote against public schools and community colleges receiving money, but rather a certain type of governing that knows good legislation sometimes takes time. Governor Brown supports this type of measure, but believes that the “the legislature can make a better proposal.”
In fact, Proposition 51 reveals larger problems with voting in general: the transparency of the ballot and the need for voters to become more informed about different measures.
It is important that voters this November do not become complacent during the voting process, and that measures are viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism. While the Foghorn realizes that not everyone has the time to do research on all 17 state initiatives, as well as the 25 city propositions, it is vital that any measure deemed too good to be true is put under a certain amount of scrutiny and is researched to understand who is involved and who benefits.
In such a whirlwind of an election season, clarity and patience are rare traits to find, but are important when deciding which direction our city and state will head towards. The Foghorn encourages every voter to put in the work before voting this November.